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University & Industry Collaborate To Expand Export

University And Industry Collaboration To Expand Exports

New Zealand's light metals manufacturers are joining forces with the academic world to develop high-value light metal products for export markets.

The project, based at the Light Metals Research Centre (LMRC) at The University of Auckland's Faculty of Science has received $1.4 million per year for four years from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Researchers in the Centre will work with academics from the University's faculties of science and engineering as well as Waikato University, AUT and industry partners, in an initiative offering significant benefits to the New Zealand economy.

Director of the Centre Dr Mark Taylor says the research will focus on transforming the value of light metals from the approximate $3000 commodity value the raw metals fetch on the international market to components that can be worth $50,000, or even $100,000 per tonne.

"We want to get the best out of these metals rather than selling them in their minimum value, semi-fabricated forms. That means turning metals such as aluminium, magnesium and titanium into high-end innovative components," says Dr Taylor.

"This not only enables us to get more value out of these materials, but keeps New Zealand one step-ahead of our competition in other countries. The market for mass produced articles is becoming increasingly difficult, and will become even more so, as the impact of China in the international scene increases."

The types of components include those found in the marine sector - such as super yachts - and in the domestic architecture of bathrooms and kitchens, as well as high performance wheels and a multitude of other automotive parts.

"New Zealand manufacturers are making these components and finished products right now. What we aim to do is try to give them an edge over the competition by making these products even more sophisticated," he says.

Dr Taylor says the researchers and industry participants will work in partnership to develop new products, as well as look at ways to overcome specific problems, such as how to make aluminium as shiny as chrome.

"It is about working together to solve problems that will give New Zealand a bigger slice of a competitive international market, and one which will increasingly look to recycle materials to produce energy and cost efficiency's through the economy.

"We believe that by working with industry and with the Government's New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, both the type of products and their speed to market can be improved," he says.

The University is part of an industry cluster, called the Light Alloys Manufacturing Group New Zealand (LAM-NZ), to help grow this manufacturing sector by increasing export value. Companies within the cluster include Ullrich Aluminium, ION Automotive, Diemetrics, Titanbond, and HERA.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Investment New Zealand have taken an interest in the group since its formation last year and are assisting the cluster to grow its membership and develop a comprehensive export strategy.

Dr Taylor says the research will be undertaken within the associated factories, using the companies' own equipment to ensure outcomes can be quickly adopted by industry.

"Factories in Hamilton, Auckland and Manukau are already being targeted for the research work. An underlying benefit of this strategy is the upskilling of the manufacturing businesses, and the researchers as well," he says.

Dr Taylor says the collaboration between different areas of the University, and from Waikato and AUT, is one of the strengths of the project.

"Many of the most innovative advances in light metals and other materials occur at the cross-disciplinary boundaries between surface science, dynamic thermal processing of materials and alloy or composite behaviour."

Dr Taylor and his team at LMRC consult internationally on the conversion of light metal ores to their metallic form. The Centre has collaborations with other research centres in North America, Europe and Australia.

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